In the competition for the toughest anti-abortion stance in Iowa, GOP candidates this week have adopted more extreme positions on abortion than they have previously ever held. But their shift toward extremity for the sake of Iowa’s evangelical base could come back to haunt the eventual nominee in the general election.
Over the past month, conservative Christian and anti-abortion groups have put the Republican presidential candidates under great scrutiny and pressure to define exactly where they stand on reproductive rights. The Christian group Concerned Women for America warned in a statement last week that the candidates would be “wise to focus on their values” if they want to win in Iowa and released a video rallying evangelical women voters.
“On January 3rd all eyes will be on Iowa and the voters, as caucus voters begin the process of choosing our nation’s leader. Evangelical Christians are one of the largest voting blocs in America, and the majority of swing voters are women,” Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, said in the statement. “If you are an Iowan who cares about life and family, then January 3rd is the day to make your voice heard. This is the most important election of our lifetime.”
The GOP candidates have taken the bait. Nearly all of them have promised to support a constitutional amendment banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and they all want to defund Planned Parenthood and the Title X family planning program, which have enjoyed bipartisan support until the past few years. These policies are to the right of those of President George W. Bush, who increased funding for Title X in 2005 and supported abortion exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.
Even Personhood USA, whose signature measure establishing fetal personhood is so extreme that it failed to pass in what may be the most socially conservative state in the nation (Mississippi) and continues to fail in multiple state courts, has succeeded in winning the attention and support of the GOP candidates. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich all have signed a Personhood USA petition pledging to support an unprecedented “human life amendment” to the Constitution and to endorse legislation making clear that “the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.” Four of them also participated in the group’s tele-town hall event Tuesday night to tout their anti-abortion credentials to 40,000 Iowan listeners.
A personhood amendment would ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest or to protect a mother’s health, and it could affect the legality of some forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research. It is not only the most hardline position a crop of primary candidates has ever held on abortion; it is also markedly more restrictive than many of the candidates’ own previously held positions.
Perry announced for the first time on Tuesday that he no longer believes abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest after Personhood USA spokeswoman Rebecca Kiessling told him a story that “pierced [his] heart.”
“We had a fairly lengthy and heartfelt conversation about how she was conceived in rape,” Perry said, “and I couldn’t come up with an answer to defend the exceptions.”
Perry’s new position falls to the right of most federal and state legislation, including the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal government funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at stake.